The red-headed woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) once was a common species in much of the Midwest and eastern North America in oak (Quercus sp.) savanna, farmlands, and other open habitats with trees. This species has experienced a range-wide population decline over the last century that likely is associated with changes in land management within agro-ecosystems and loss of oak savanna. Due to structural similarities with natural habitats used by the species, we expected that golf courses could provide suitable breeding habitat for red-headed woodpeckers. From mid-May to early August 2002 and 2003, we censused red-headed woodpeckers on 100 randomly selected golf courses in northern and central Ohio, measured habitat characteristics at each course and surrounding each active woodpecker nest, and monitored nesting success of breeding pairs. We recorded 158 adult redheaded woodpeckers on 26 of the 100 censused courses. Golf courses used by redheaded woodpeckers contained trees that were 12% larger in diameter and had approximately twice as many hard-mast trees (e.g., oaks, hickories [Carya sp.], American beech [Fagus grandifolia]), standing dead trees (snags), and dead limbs as courses without woodpeckers. Habitat measurements at 49 active nests indicated that nest patches contained roughly twice as many hard-mast trees, snags, and dead limbs as non-nest habitat plots over the entire course. Most nests (67%) were located in dead limbs of live trees, rather than in snags. Of 16 nests monitored on courses, 75% successfully fledged ≥1 young, and this was comparable to 10 nests monitored off courses, for which 80% successfully fledged ≥1 young. Our findings illustrate that highly modified habitats, such as golf courses, could play a valuable role in the conservation of wildlife associated with open, disturbance-maintained woodlands, including the declining red-headed woodpecker.
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